The remaining Top 10 went solo this week (with a little help from the All-Stars) and it made for a surprisingly uneven episode. Let's talk about the highlights!
First things first: I really love the All-Stars. I am pro-All-Star. That's an important distinction to make as a fan of So You Think You Can Dance, since the involvement of former contestants in present-tense competition has been divisive ever since Nigel dreamed it up. But whether you enjoy or resent the return of former castmembers, there's no denying the sheer entertainment value they bring to the show; their experience and out-of-competition cool enhance the dancers' skills at an exponential rate. But there's also just something special about seeing familiar faces and re-experiencing those memories alongside the new ones being forged, like several SYTYCD universes collapsing together into one big cozy atmosphere. Yeah, I really like the All-Stars.
Surprisingly, however, this season's first All-Star inclusive episode wasn't quite as amazing as it should have been! For whatever reason fully the first half of this week's competition felt drab and expected before suddenly picking up around the halfway mark and ending with a series of incredible routines. When it came to the less thrilling moments, I'd say the blame fell squarely to the choreographers, including, once again, some very phoned-in Tyce Diorio routines plus the (somewhat) unwelcome return of Tabitha & Napoleon. Only adding to the initial saturnine atmosphere was the producers' bafflingly terrible idea to alert dancers of their Bottom 2 status immediately after performing. Not only did that strike me as an unfair influence on voters for the current week's routines, it dampened the adrenaline high the dancers (and we) were feeling following each piece. But we're not here to talk about what we didn't like. Let's talk about what we DID like! Specifically Spencer Liff! And Cat Deeley. And Brenton Thwaites. And, as ever, Rudy.
PERFORMANCE OF THE NIGHT
Casey & All-Star Kathryn's Broadway routine, choreographed by Spencer Liff. When it comes to the actual choreography, Spencer Liff kept it fairly basic and straightforward, but the real thrills came from his inspired song choice of one of Liza Minnelli's more pathos-heavy songs and the increasingly flawless Casey's masterwork alongside Kathryn. How is it possible for such a deserving winner to fly under the radar so consistently like Casey has? Is it because he looks vaguely CGI? Is it because we never laid eyes on him until he was in the Top 20 and therefore he still feels like a stranger? Either way, everything came together in this straight-up gorgeous routine and Casey might be my new #1. [EDITOR'S NOTE: He's still pretty much a personality void, for me, though he moves beautifully. Glad he's made it this far. Will be disappointed if he outlasts any of the other three boys remaining. — JR]
CHOREOGRAPHY OF THE NIGHT
Zack & All-Star Amy's contemporary routine, choreographed by Sonya Tayeh. I mean, yeah, this routine should be entered directly into the pantheon of incredibly sad, inspired-by-actual-tragedy routines that the choreographers (in particular Mia Michaels and Travis Wall) occasionally gift to the show. Again, the dancing pyrotechnics were kept to a minimum, but minimalism was the thing here. Zack's nakedly emotional commitment was a true thrill, and Mary Murphy's stifled tears during her critique made me lose it. Riveting television. [EDITOR'S NOTE: In almost no medium am I ever onboard with artists crying over the beauty of their own work (sorry about it, Marina Abramović), but this show is an exception, as it is in so many respects. Zack's quivering chin throughout his critique really got to me. — JR]
Ricky & All-Star Lauren's jazz routine, choreographed by Mandy Moore. This honestly could ALSO have been my favorite routine of the night, as it was as fun as anything SYTYCD has ever done. Both Ricky and Lauren are two of the most exciting dancers in franchise history, and both the concept and execution of this piece put their skills on full display. So good.
Jessica & All-Star tWitch's hip hop routine, choreographed by Tabitha & Napoleon. I wasn't thrilled by the sudden return of Tabitha & Napoleon, whose initially very fun work somehow turned super corny and self-satisfied during subsequent seasons. (With obvious exceptions; their breath-taking single-take routine that opened Season 10 remains incredible.) But yeah, Tabitha's "NappyTabs"-branded sportswear pretty much perfectly summed these two up when they first appeared in this episode, and their first hip hop sketch with Emilio & Jasmine was more or less what we'd come to expect of them. But credit where credit's due, I REALLY enjoyed this Jessica and tWitch routine. Yes, it was insanely corny, sort of an old-timey sexual harassment skit, but Jessica and tWitch were so good that they were able to transcend some very lame trappings to basically bring down the house. [EDITOR'S NOTE: I am, for the first time this season, onboard with Jessica. So get ready for her to go home next week. — JR]
This opening group routine, choreographed by Jamal Sims. Um, a day-glo Old West set to the tune of Jessie J's "Bang Bang"? Who knew that so many things I don't like could come together into something so glorious? This show constantly reminds me that I'm always one dance routine away from falling in love with something I might otherwise dislike. This was really inspired.
Jacque & All-Star Chehon's contemporary ballet routine, choreographed by Travis Wall. Guys, I'm sorry, I wasn't totally into this one, but I'm including it as sort of an A-for-effort kind of thing. First of all, CHEHON. Second of all, "contemporary ballet" is an admirable mash-up, and its production values were really inspired. But it just felt weirdly stiff and awkward to me, and no amount of shirtless-in-white-jeans Chehon could save it. [EDITOR'S NOTE: No amount? — JR] Still, though, if this (and Bollywood Disco) were any indication, hopefully the show takes more chances on new genres. I approve of this idea.
Emilio & Bridget. Again, in giving fellow bottom twos Jacque and Zack a reprieve, America made the right choice. Emilio and Bridget are fantastic dancers, but just haven't been shining quite as brightly as their co-stars. But dang, Bridget's smile-through-the-tears face at the end was killing me though. Hang in there, girl! [EDITOR'S NOTE: She should have stayed over Jacque, who benefitted ever so slightly from her showmance with Rudy, let's get truthful. — JR]
JUDGING THE GUEST JUDGE
If a Tara Lipinski falls in the woods and a Johnny Weir isn't around to commentate, does anybody hear her? Not sure if that analogy works, but then again I'm not sure if Tara Lipinski worked here. She looked fantastic and had a great attitude, but for someone VERY familiar with high-pressure athletic competition, she didn't have much more insight than, say, Christina Applegate. But she looked great! That side-sweep was like something out of Valley Girl and I did NOT mind.
Absolutely the best host this week was Cat Deeley. Even more than usual she kept the show lively and entertaining during its slower moments. Her giggly rapport with Rudy has quickly become a season highlight—how much did you love when she interrupted the opening roll call to admonish Rudy for blowing Jacque a kiss? ("That was a cheeky kiss!") Further, did I detect Cat throwing actual shade at the producers for their decision to reveal Bottom 2 candidates along the way? During Bridget's reveal she actually told her, "I hate that we have to reveal results as we go along," and then at the end when she had to announce who was going home she openly fumbled with the envelope, "I can't get into it. I've ripped it." Guys, if we know anything about Cat Deeley at all, it's that she's a basically flawless live TV host, so I couldn't help but interpret these bumblings as intentional signals to the producers that their choices just weren't SYTYCD's style. No matter what else goes on on this show we can always trust Cat to be the arbiter of good-humored warmth and humanity. That is why she is the best.
... The SYTYCD Tour is ON. Are you going?
... Oh, Christina Perri. Yes, you won the lottery with that "Jar of Hearts" situation, but I'm not sure lightning will strike twice with whatever this song was. Also, allowing Chehon and Kathryn to dance beside you is a sure way for me to never look at you even once.
... Yes, I know the Degree "Move To Improve" moments was a paid advertisement, but it also afforded us actual, meaningful glimpses into the dancers' hopes and fears. Honestly very compelling stuff.
... Hi, Spencer Liff.
... We finally learned who snapped up Sonya Tayeh: The Martha Graham Company. That is very prestigious and of course Sonya deserves prestige, but does this mean she won't be back for further seasons? My heart is racing just thinking about that sad idea.
.. Rudy, Rudy, Rudy.
... Hi, The Giver's Brenton Thwaites. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Oh, dear. — JR]
... The final dance party was a mix of both tears and unrelated dancing (Ryan, please leave Tanisha alone during these trying times), but I found it touching that the All-Stars came out to comfort Emilio and Bridget. Most of the All-Stars are not winners themselves, so not only could they probably help commiserate, they could be reminders that the "stars" of this show didn't actually need to win.
... Here's another one of those extended peeks at post-credits aftermath, from last week's double-elimination. I think you'll agree there's A LOT going on here: